A Few More Words About Perfection

I wanted to add a few words about chasing (or actually not chasing) perfection. I mentioned this on the recent Maggie Groundwork Video. 

Of course, there are a gajillion ways to think about perfection and practice. One of the most salient quotes I can think of is: “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect”. 

Certainly that is one way to think of it. But, that way just doesn’t resonate with me at all. The idea of trying to have perfect practice or somehow achieve perfection with my horse is an almost debilitating expectation. 

Instead, the way I think of it is: Don’t worry about perfect practice. Just practice. Get out there and put in the time. One day, you’ll look up and notice that you and your horse are different.

There are two caveats though: (And they’re big ones.) 

  1. I need to have a picture of the ideal result in my mind. 
  2. I need to know what the little pieces are on the way to the ideal result. 

So, my formula is to study horses and horsemanship results that look good to me. I watch the process of how the result shapes up. Then, when I’m with my horse, I don’t focus on the ideal at all. I just try to recognize the littlest bits of progress I possibly can. 

Another way to say it is, as I develop my own horses, the division of labor kind of goes like this: 

  1. I decide the ideal we’re heading towards. (I’m the leader in our little herd of two. So, obviously I need to be the one with the plan.)
  2. I’m in charge of recognizing little pieces of progress that will move us towards our goal and I’m committed to rewarding them. (The tinier the increments I can recognize, the better.)
  3. I am the keeper of appreciation and LOVE for my horse. I remember that I have horses because I love them. 

When we get to the kernel of it all, I tend to just assign one overarching responsibility to my horse: 

  1. Try stuff. 

You might be wondering what sparked my fixation on this topic lately. Really, it’s Gary Bailey’s fault. In September, I got to spend yet another weekend watching him start a few colts in a very private clinic at Las Piedras. 

The weather in the Hidden Valley of California was just turning towards fall and the days were perfect. Nathan and I were waiting by the roundpen on Thursday evening as  Gary arrived after a long trip from Oklahoma. He unloaded two wild Patrick fillies that night. 

Over the next three days and with just over an hour of development a day, each of them became totally content under saddle and were quietly wearing snaffle bits while, riding and guiding out in the big arena. 

Gary’s results are almost insanely fast and pure and as close to perfection as I’ve ever seen. Yet, I never saw him try to perfect anything along the way. 

(Side confession. I may or may not have been given one of the fillies a few days later. She may or may not be a beautiful sorrel with the most perfect ears ever. She may or may not be named Jillian.)

Seriously though, it’s probably impossible to emphasize enough how watching Gary Bailey develop horses has affected me. I’m so grateful to be able to watch the process over and over again. He just does a little of this, a little of that and suddenly a half hour later, the horse is magically doing and understanding things I didn’t even see him teaching. 

It’s pretty fun now to be so much more at peace with developing horses intuitively with this formula. You’ll really see it as I publish the Maggie story. (And really with all my horses.) Although I do know the curriculum and the general order of things IS important, development isn’t ever exactly linear. It can’t be because every horse and every situation is different. 

If my keystone priorities are being met, (safety for me and understanding for my horse) I’m free to relax into artist mode which has been the dream all along. 

Nothing has to be perfect; which is convenient because I’m not perfect. What a relief!

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